Does your brand tell a story?

Maybe it’s because social media has replaced real-life interaction. Maybe it’s because big business is taking over the world, and we’re craving the intimacy of shopping local, where the barista knows your order, and the baker knows your name. Whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure: your brand story – whether that’s your business or your personal brand – is more important than ever. Consumers want to see some humanity behind the glitzy facade created by an expensive ad agency in London, New York or Hong Kong. This is where your brand story comes in.

Just take a look at some of the biggest brand names in the world. KFC has Colonel Sanders, the iconic bearded man smiling from the fast food magnate’s logo. Wendy’s follows a similar idea. The Starbucks siren is recognisable all over the world, and Uncle Ben’s Rice is even named after the figure.

Taking things one step further, major brands are now using ‘real’ people in their advertisements, instead of professional models. In 2018, dating app company Bumble launched their ‘Find them on Bumble’ campaign, splashing collages of single New Yorkers on the front covers of newspapers and magazines. The idea? To show who’s actually on the app and ready to find love. You might want to swipe right on Benny, a 27 year old musician from Brooklyn, or Camilla, a 35 year old artist from Queens. Far more effective than traditional advertising, people download the app because they want to join in the brand’s story by meeting these inspiring people.

Part of the reason brand stories are so important is because consumers – particularly millennials and Gen Z – are looking to shop at purpose-driven companies with a strong identity. Just look at food packaging these days. From Innocent Smoothies and Ben and Jerry’s, to Oatly Milk and Divine Chocolate, you can read all about the ingredients’ journey to production, and why the founders wanted to do things differently in their business. Put simply, stories sell. This is true not only for massive international corporates, but also for local brands, online businesses, and even freelancers. Essentially, if you’re selling something – no matter what that something is – you need a clear brand story, and you need to be able to communicate it well.

Storytelling is gradually working its way into the business world. Marketing books have shifted slightly from a focus on growth-hacking and data driven marketing, to storytelling and creative communication methods. Donald Miller’s famous book, Building a StoryBrand: Clarify your Message so Customers Will Listen, is a good example. Miller takes the idea one step further by encouraging business owners to identify plot arcs, heroes and villains to weave into their storytelling, ultimately positioning their customer as the hero who succeeds through acquiring whatever it is that you’re selling.

If you’re not sold on why you should incorporate storytelling into your business, consider this. Whatever your business does, it’s likely that there are hundreds – or thousands – of others out there doing the same thing. If you’re a wedding photographer, social media manager, freelance financial adviser, or run a fashion startup, you’re operating in a pretty saturated world. Your story is the one thing that can really set you apart – because by definition, no one else has the same story. And if you don’t think you’re a naturally great communicator? Listen to this quote from Carmine Gallo: “We’re all storytellers. You’re telling stories every day. In a business presentation, you’re telling the story behind your campaign, company or product. In a job interview, you’re telling the story behind your personal brand.”

And as individuals, stories are equally important, even if you work in a big corporation. Take two famous examples: Steve Jobs and Alexandria Orcasio Cortez. Jobs had one of the world’s most recognisable personal brands: laid back, unassuming, and always dressed in his signature round glasses, black poloneck, and mom jeans. His backstory was equally fascinating: Syrian by background, and raised by adoptive parents his whole life. Jobs was known for being a Buddhist vegetarian, obsessed with meditation, which might appear at odds with his role at the head of the world’s leading technology company. His strong personal backstory played a role in creating the legend of Steve Jobs in our minds, cementing him as one of the key world-changing figures of the 2000s. Similarly, AOC’s stratospheric rise to fame is made all the more impressive by the fact that she was a waitress in New York just a few years before being voted into the House of Representatives.

We know you can tell stories, so all you’ve got to do now is work out what yours is. Consider looking at similar brands and individuals within your industry, and figuring out what their story is, and more importantly, how they communicate it. We’ll all got a backstory we can use to position ourselves in a certain way – you’ve just got to dig deep enough.

Written by Phoebe Dodds